Norman Tweed Whitaker
Search for Historical Perspective:
A Tale Full of Genius and Devil
by John S. Hilbert
| Little is ever as straightforward as it looks.
In the near future, Caissa Editions will release my book entitled Shady
Side: The Life and Crimes of Norman Tweed Whitaker, Chessmaster.
Based on approximately 1,500 to 2,000 documents salvaged from Whitakers
estate papers, enough paper to fill five crates, the book chronicles not
only the life of Whitaker, including his extensive chess play, but also
his personal life and his criminal activity. Never have I seen a
chess player of approximately international master strength so clearly
composed of both great promise and grave faults. Whitaker was by
training a patent attorney. He came from a very good Philadelphia
family, and regularly was praised in the press during his teens as one
of the strongest young chess players to emerge in the United States.
And yet Whitakers multiple convictions for interstate car theft, his conviction
for attempting to bilk the Washington Post heiress and then owner
of the Hope Diamond out of thousands of dollars, claiming falsely to be
able to return Charles Lindberghs kidnapped infant; his conviction for
sending narcotics, namely morphine, through the mails; and certainly his
conviction at age sixty for sexually molesting a minor, denote the mind
of a confirmed, career criminal.
| With thousands of documents, with the FBI files
and prison records from Alcatraz and Leavenworth, the hundreds of scoresheets
in his possession at the time of his death, the parking tickets, the income
tax returns, the personal and often very private correspondence, the rage
and bitterness, the generous impulses, and the cast of characters including
not only Charles Lindbergh, but J. Edgar Hoover, Al Capone, United States
Senators, a New Jersey Governor, and chess officials ranging from Franklin
Chess Club President Walter Penn Shipley to USCF President Frank Graves,
and the rest, with all of this, are we any closer to the truth of who Norman
Tweed Whitaker was, and what the forces in his life, mixed with his volatile
personality, made of him?
| In one sense, of course we are. Shady Side
includes a three-hundred page biography devoted precisely to unveiling,
in all its shame and glory, the life, the times, and the crimes of a chess
player often hated and often loved, but rarely, if ever, ignored. Whitaker
was nothing if not an accomplished conman, playing his tactical moves in
life as much as over the board. His problem, one he ultimately never
solved either on the board or off, was how to concentrate on accumulating
the small advantages that can result, eventually, in a strategic victory.
A brilliant tactician, he could be outmaneuvered by an equally talented
master versed more deeply in strategy, either in chess or in life.
Whitakers blindness to his own inability to recognize the importance of
strategy was, in a very real sense, the source of his downfall. And
thus Shady Side explores the hitherto hidden recesses of the ultimate
conman of chess, who at times could con himself, as well.
| But in another sense, any biographical work, and
especially one as rich in primary sources as Shady Side, can in
truth only begin to touch the surface of all that goes into the heart and
mind of a man such as Whitaker. No matter where one looks in such
a work, despite three-hundred pages of pure biographical material, and
an additional nearly two hundred pages offering 570 of his chess games,
more could be said, more could be done. For biography, like any story,
is as much a record of what is omitted as what is included. A biography
must by necessity take some shape, one partially imposed by the author
and, assuming the author is at all sensitive to his subject, one partially
imposed by the person about whom he writes. The failure to impose
orderto systematically include as well as excludereduces the biographical
act to the mere recitation of a laundry list of events, names, dates, and
circumstances. The resulting work, while perhaps an unsurpassed source
book, fails to convey a unified whole. It fails to stand as a portrait
| Though any biography must almost by definition exclude
material, or to say it another way, must emphasize some aspects of its
subject over others, that does not mean the material excluded is somehow
necessarily less useful, less compelling, than what is retained.
Indeed, such material, when seen from another perspective than within the
context of a fully realized biography, can be highly entertaining.
An example from Shady Side should illustrate the point.
| In Shady Side, near the end of Chapter Six,
Life Between Prisons (1927-1931), I dealt with Whitakers anger at the
National Chess Federation, and in particular with Maurice Kuhns, its President,
because of the latters failure to select Whitaker as a member of the United
States team to go to either Hamburg 1930 or Prague 1931, the latter the
Fourth Chess Olympiad. The 1931 team, composed of Frank Marshall,
Isaac Kashdan, Herman Steiner, Al Horowitz, and a very young Arthur Dake,
won the Prague Olympiad, beginning the series of Olympiads in the 1930s
when the United States dominated that event.
| Whitakers general movements during this time are,
of course, chronicled in the book, and the following brief statement appears
at page 111 of the final draft: By the end of May 1931 Whitaker was in
St. Louis, where on May 30, 1931, Decoration Day, he gave an eleven board
simultaneous display at the St. Louis Chess Club, winning seven, losing
one, and drawing three. The next day at the local YMCA he gave another
eleven board exhibition, finishing with nine wins, one loss, and one draw.
| But is this really all we know of Whitakers movements
at the end of May and beginning of June, 1931? No. Much more
could be given to illustrate just how bitter Whitaker was concerning the
perceived slight to his ability as a chess player, as well as to his person.
And his movements during those few days so long ago could also be used
to illustrate the very forces he faced, and outraged, within organized
chess in the United States.
| Perhaps it would be best to briefly sketch the context
for the quoted passage above. Whitaker, by 1931, had already served
a prison term at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary for interstate car theft.
He had been tried in a court in Los Angeles in 1924 for the theft of a
doctors car in Ocean City, New Jersey, which he and other members of his
family, along with friends, drove to California. Whitaker led the
expedition, one that also saw the Mann Act violated, insurance fraud perpetrated,
and, almost in passing, some good chess played. Although Whitakers
younger brother, Roland, also a patent attorney, was ultimately found not
guilty at the same time Norman Whitaker was sentenced to two years in prison
for masterminding the theft, and although charges had been dropped earlier
against his two sisters, Dorothy and Hazel, the arrest of all four Whitaker
siblings proved too much for their father. Dr. Herbert Whitaker,
a high school principle in Philadelphia, died from a heart attack a week
after his four children were charged with the crime. Norman Whitakers
arrest, trial, and conviction were known to a number of chess players as
well as chess organizers, and the battle lines a few years later were drawn
between those who wished Norman would just disappear from chess, and those
who felt that since he had served his time, he deserved a chance to redeem
himself, however he could, including competing for high chess honors both
nationally and internationally.
| Complicating such divergent views was the fact that,
regardless of what others thought, Whitaker had only a few months after
his release from Leavenworth won the championship of the newly created
National Chess Federation (NCF) at a small tournament held in Kalamazoo,
Michigan, in 1927. There Whitaker defeated a young Samuel Reshevsky,
as well as players such as Kupchik, Steiner, Factor and Mlotkowski.
Thanks to the help of Jack OKeefe, a Michigan chess historian, all of
Whitakers games from Kalamazoo have finally been recovered. Happily
they appear in Shady Side, with some of them, including his defeat
of Reshevsky, annotated by Whitaker himself.
| Whitakers reign as NCF champion, however, was to
be short lived. Unlike Frank Marshall, whose title as United States
champion, conferred by way of match play against Jackson Whipps Showalter
in 1909, was respected by most chessplayers until he finally retired
in 1936, Whitaker found his NCF title was merely an annual one, and hence
by design a title retained by the NCF. His title would thus expire
with the 1928 championship, unless Whitaker retained it through winning
that event. Marshall could pick and chose who he cared to face for
his title, and indeed managed in the mid-1930s to avoid his strongest challenger,
Isaac Kashdan, because of the latters inability to raise the $5,000 purse
demanded by the champion, and as required under published match rules made
during more congenial economic times. Whitaker, as NCF champion,
did not have the luxury of resting on his laurels. All the more irritating
to Whitaker, then, was his failure to receive even an invitation to Bradley
Beach 1928, site of the second annual NCF championship, where Abraham Kupchik
won the title. Rightly or wrongly, Whitaker blamed Kuhns for this
snub. And Whitaker was not one to forget what he considered a wrong.
| Although it largely went unspoken, Maurice Kuhns
and others involved with the NCF had not wanted Whitaker to participate,
as his personality rubbed many of them raw and his past criminal record,
many felt, disgraced organized chess. Whitaker was clearly aware
of this, and responded in kind. Indeed, Whitaker retained some pull
in the old Western Chess Association, an organization that had affiliated
with the NCF at one point, but which would resurface as others became disenchanted
with the relative inactivity of the NCF after Bradley Beach 1928.
And the disenchantment was to some degree understandable, since a number
of players away from the East coast, or even outside the large cities along
the East coast, such as New York and Philadelphia, and as far west as Kuhns
own Chicago, did not believe that Middle America was receiving sufficient
attention from the quasi-quiescent, largely New York City dominated NCF.
Officers of that federation continued to add their input, both officially
and unofficially, in the selection of team members sent to the FIDE Olympiads.
At one point there was even a movement, largely whipped on by Whitaker,
to have the Western Chess Association become a second United States affiliate
of FIDE, thus setting itself up in direct competition with the NCF.
Needless to say, Kuhns and his friends found such activity meddlesome,
and their distaste for Whitaker and his ways only grew accordingly.
| Such were the dynamics that by mid-1931, shortly
before selection of the Prague team was to be announced, much of Whitakers
activities were directed toward fueling his own and others distaste of
| Thus, when Whitaker visited St. Louis on May 30,
1931, it was not his scheduled simultaneous exhibition alone that occupied
his thoughts. And while Shady Side itself does not detail
all the events of that Memorial Day weekend nearly seventy years ago, that
certainly doesnt mean there isnt much to learn about the history of American
chess politics from that time, and that place.
| Correspondence found in the White Collection of
the Cleveland Public Library, the worlds largest repository of chess books
and chess related materials, throws additional light on Whitakers trip
to St. Louis as well as his ulterior motives for traveling to that city.
(I am indebted to Jeffrey Martin, Special Collections Librarian for the
White Collection at the Cleveland Public Library, for making available
to me copies of the correspondence quoted throughout the remainder of this
essay.) Those papers also reveal the etiology of one mans dislike
for Whitaker. The remainder of this essay will delve deeply into
those documents, and attempt to illustrate just how rich such primary sources
can be for the chess historian, who must, again, decide at each turn of
the page what to include, what to exclude.
* * * * * * * * * *
| To understand what took place behind the scenes
when Whitaker arrived in St. Louis for his simultaneous displays around
the end of May 1931, we must first travel part way round the world, where
a letter dated June 1, 1931, was just being composed. Directed to
Maurice Kuhns, President of the NCF, the letter very clearly set out Whitakers
intentions. Mr. Whitaker, so the writer stated, wrote me several
times and officially about the application of the Western [Chess]
Association as a regular Member of FIDE. Though I am and while
I am on good terms with Mr. Whitaker, I explained to him the undesirability
if not impossibility of the representation of the United States by two
different bodies. But, unless the Western [Chess] Association
gives up their request, I should feel obliged to put the question to the
Prague meeting, strongly advising to hold to the NCF as I wrote to Mr.
Whitaker in this sense.
| Who was the man writing to Kuhns in such terms,
who was clearly quite familiar with Whitakers relationship with the Western
Chess Association and the attempt to undermine the role of the NCF as sole
representative of the United States before FIDE, the International Chess
Federation? His name was Dr. Alexander Reub. Forty-eight at
the time he wrote Kuhns, Reub had been President of FIDE since 1924, and
would remain its leader for an astonishing twenty-five years, until 1949,
when Folke Rogard finally replaced him in that role. A student of
law and political science at the University of Leyden, Reub had returned
to his place of birth, The Hague, where he practiced law starting in 1908.
He would hold the presidency of his local club, the Netherlands Chess Association,
and, ultimately, the International Chess Federation. In 1951 Reub
would become an international judge of chess compositions, and would in
fact publish a five volume work on his first love, chess studies.
| Reub clearly did not want the Western Chess Association,
through which Whitaker was attempting to work, subverting the established
authority of the NCF by calling into question the latters authority to
represent United States chess interests before the international body.
Whitaker, though, hardly limited himself to attacking Kuhns and the NCF
from one direction. And indeed, curiously enough, President Reub
was not the only individual writing Maurice Kuhns on June 1, 1931, concerning
| Back in St. Louis, one man was breathing somewhat
easier, as he wrote Kuhns on June 1, 1931, that he had heard nothing more
of Whitakers appearance here on Saturday [May 30, 1931].
I did not go around to the Club at all. Was at the office in the forenoon,
however, but if Whitaker got around to the Building at that time of the
he did not deign to make me a calland I was greatly relieved
that he did not. It being Decoration Day and a double header at the
ball park, I fancy there was a slim attendance at the Chess Club, and I
saw nothing further in the paper about his performance.
| The second writer directing correspondence to Kuhns
on June 1, 1931, was Horace E. McFarland, whose office, from where he wrote,
was in the Missouri Pacific Building in St. Louis. McFarlands obituary
in the American Chess Bulletin in 1940 would announce that he had
been employed long by the Missouri Pacific Railroad, though by then he
had also long been retired from his job. Although the Bulletin
could only say that McFarland was well over sixty at the time of
his death, Horace Edmund McFarland, according to his death certificate,
as reported by Jeremy Gaige in Chess Personalia, was in fact over
seventy-six. McFarland was sixty-seven when he reported to Kuhns
that he feared Whitaker would approach him concerning his anger with the
| McFarland, of course, had good reason to fear Whitaker
would seek him out to make his case against the national organization.
For McFarland had recently replaced Edward Lasker as Secretary of the NCF,
a position he continued to hold until that organization merged with the
American Chess Federation at the end of the decade to form the United States
Chess Federation of America, more commonly known today as the USCF.
Hermann Helms would later write of McFarland that for a long period he
was in close cooperation with M.S. Kuhns of Chicago, president and founder
of the National Chess Federation, through which the United States became
affiliated with the International Chess Federation.
| And McFarlands knowledge of Whitaker predated his
relationship with the NCF. As Helms would also state, before taking
up the responsibilities of the national secretaryship, he had been Associate
Editor of The Gambit, the organ of the Missouri Pacific Chess Club,
to which he contributed many valuable articles based on a comprehensive
knowledge of chess history and indefatigable research. McFarland
would refer to his association with The Gambit when writing Kuhns
in a later letter, dated July 16, 1931. There McFarland wrote that
several years ago I had had considerable correspondence with Whitaker,
but when my connection with The Gambit was severed, Whitaker simply
dropped me. This detail, besides suggesting McFarland felt Whitakers
interest in him was only to the extent he could be used for purposes of
disseminating in print Whitakers views, also suggests a basis for McFarlands
own developing distaste for the chess player. After all, no one looks
very kindly on those they feel are using them merely for their own ends.
And such personal matters easily can, and do, shade political alignments.
| Whitaker no doubt planned to talk with McFarland
during his trip to St. Louis. On May 30, 1931, Whitaker gave his
simultaneous exhibition at the Missouri Pacific Chess Club, housed in the
very building in which McFarland worked, and where he reported to Kuhns
he first missed seeing Whitaker. Whitaker did not, however, leave
St. Louis immediately. I thought I had been lucky, McFarland wrote
Kuhns early in June 1931, in not having a call from Whitaker, but he did
not leave here Sunday, as I thought he would, but played Sunday at the
YMCA [chess club] and stayed over, calling on me this noon.
His visit to St. Louis is no doubt to enlist support for his effort to
go over to Europe as a member of this years team [in Prague], and
his call on me to air his grievance against the NCF and perhaps see if
I would not use my influence in his behalf.
| The Gambit for June-July 1931 announced that
Whitaker had not only given an eleven board simultaneous exhibition at
the Missouri Pacific Chess Club on May 30, 1931, finishing with seven wins,
one loss, and three draws, but also reported that the next day, May 31,
1931, Whitaker had given a second eleven board exhibition at the local
YMCA, there finishing better, with nine wins, one loss, and one draw.
In many of his simultaneous exhibitions, unlike other masters, Whitaker
would offer his opponents the choice of playing White or Black. The
game that follows, published in the same issue of The Gambit,
at page 39, shows Whitaker playing the Black pieces. Unfortunately,
The Gambit only mentioned the game was from an eleven board St.
Louis simultaneous exhibition, and thus, given both simultaneous displays
in St. Louis involved eleven opponents, it is impossible to know whether
the game was played on May 30 or May 31, 1931.
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 c5 3.Nf3 Qb6 4.b3 e6 5.e3 Nc6 6.c3 d5 7.Bd3
Bd7 8.Nbd2 Be7 9.Qc2 Rc8 10.h4 cxd4 11.Nxd4 Nb4 12.Qb1 Rxc3 13.Be2 Bc5
14.Bd1 Bxd4 15.exd4 Rc1 16.Nc4 dxc4 17.Bxc1 Nd3+ 18.Kf1 Bc6 19.Be3 Nd5
20.Bc2 Nxe3+ 21.fxe3
21...cxb3 22.Bxb3 Qb5 23.Qc2 0-0 24.Ke2 Be4 25.Bc4 Qh5+
26.Kd2 Rc8 27.Qb3 Nf2 28.Rh2 Ng4 29.Rhh1 a6 30.Raf1 Qa5+ 31.Ke2 b5 32.Bxe6
Rc2+ 33.Qxc2 Bxc2 34.Bxf7+ Kh8 35.Bb3 Bxb3 36.Rf8+ Bg8 37.Rc1 Qxa2+ 38.Kf3
Nxe3 39.Rcc8 Nxg2 40.Rxg8+ Qxg8 41.Rxg8+ Kxg8 42.Kxg2 b4 0-1.
Queens Pawn: Torre
(11 board simultaneous exhibition) USA St.
The Gambit, June-July 1931, p39
| McFarland wrote Kuhns about Whitakers visit on
Monday, June 1, 1931. The details of the letter illustrate one of
Whitakers methods of attempting to sow discord among chess officials:
making a multitude of largely unsupported accusations against a third party,
while simultaneously trying to ingratiate himself with his companion of
the moment. But McFarland, for one, did not like Whitakers company.
I was obliged, of course, to treat him decent, McFarland wrote, and
especially as it is the Railroad Companys office, but considering all
the charges he made, I would have been glad if I had been in a position
so that I could have shown him the door. As it was, all I could do
was to let him air his complaint, and say what he had to say, and in reply
say that the National would be able to do things if it had the support
to which it is entitled.
| Ironically, McFarlands deafness actually allowed
him to report to Kuhns the precise words of Whitakers argument, words
he might have been hard pressed to quote accurately had he been forced
to rely on hearing and recollection alone. About everything he said
to me was written down on a scratch pad, McFarland confided to the NCF
President, because I do not hear, and I preserved the slips, or the most
of them, and so I have it in black and white, which I am quoting for your
| Among Whitakers gripes was the selection of the
team sent to Hamburg in 1930 to play in that years Olympiad team tournament.
Helms, as chronicler of the NCF in the pages of the American Chess Bulletin,
gave a great deal of coverage to the event. In his May-June 1930
issue, Helms noted the composition of the team: Frank Marshall, captain,
Harold M. Phillips, manager, Isaac Kashdan, Herman Steiner, and J. Allan
Anderson, the last named of St. Louis, Missouri. Andersons inclusion
on fourth board, though not explicitly stated, no doubt was made to avoid
a clean sweep for New York City, the town the other three players as well
as the team manager called home. Unfortunately the United States
could finish no higher than sixth out of eighteen teams, scoring 41½-26½.
While Marshall scored 12½-4½, and Kashdan an exceptional
14-3, Anderson managed to hold his own, with three wins, two losses, and
seven draws through the first twelve rounds, only to lose his last five
games. The American Chess Bulletin for July-August 1931 emphasized
how well Anderson had played early on, and reported it was surprising
to learn he had dropped his last five games. Allowance must be made,
said the Bulletin, for the unusual amount of work put upon a player
inexperienced in international activities. A photograph of the team
and its manager belatedly graced the pages of the Bulletins December
| Whitaker had hoped to play for the United States
at Hamburg 1930, and he attributed his failure to be selected to the personal
animus Kuhns and other officials of the NCF held for him. He considered
the inclusion in 1930 of Anderson on fourth board as improper, as he believed
he was much more qualified to fill the slot.
| But explaining this and other matters to the Secretary
of the NCF, himself a St. Louis man, and while in St. Louis, could at best
be said to be impolitic on Whitakers part. In any event, McFarland
began piecing together Whitakers points, literally, from his trash can,
and conveying them to Kuhns. He said the National had had no tourney
since 1928; no election of officers; no activity; dirty politics; nothing
whatsoever since 1928 except sending picked, unqualified teams to Europe.
And then came the jab against St. Louis own Anderson. Last
year [the NCF] sent several unqualified men, neither members of
NCF or strong American players. The team was regarded as a joke.
All NCF did was to donate $100 for the five men, or $20 each. Anderson,
Steiner and others not members of NCF, I am a member, but neither Steiner
or Anderson. More politics this year about Prague. Kuhns
wants to keep me off, even though 1. I am a member NCF, 2. I am champion
NCF, 3. Champion (equally) WCA, 4. Champion Penn., 5. U.S. Citizen.
I am willing to pay my own way and NCF didnt give me a dollar when I
represented it and NCF in 1928 in Hague.
| When I told him that the Western decided not to
go along with us, McFarland continued, he said: we did go in, but got
no representation whatsoever. We affiliated with NCF, in 1927 at
Kalamazooto our sorrow. He also said, in reply to a remark I made
that the National would be able to do things if supported: Neither clubs
or Western will ever support with Kuhns. I know.
| But Whitaker had not finished bad mouthing Kuhns.
Of course I said that I did not agree with him and to his estimation of
you, and that you deserved a great deal of credit for establishing the
Federation. In reply he said: Factor did more than Kuhns to start
it. After it started Kuhns threw out Factor as a director.
He wants no one in NCF if they disagree with his politics. Also
in the course of the conversation he said: You dont know and neither
do other good directors of the dirty stuff going on, it has ruined the
NCF and power it could have.
| Whitaker encouraged McFarland to join with other
directors to restrain Kuhns and his alleged domination of the NCF.
Whitaker also told McFarland he was returning to Chicago the next morning
to talk with other chess officials. McFarland speculated it was another
attempt by Whitaker to influence the composition of the team being sent
to Prague, and that as he believed Whitaker was traveling by automobile,
he expected him to arrive in Chicago Thursday morning. McFarland also thought
he might have some of Whitakers remarks out of order, as he was crumpling
and throwing into the trash can each one as it was written, so Whitaker
would not think he was saving them. McFarland added that we now know beyond
any doubt, if we did not before, just how he stands and that there should
be no compromise with him whatever. I am satisfied that we can make
a success of the Federation without Whitaker and his crowd, and we will
continue to work to that end. Thus did Whitaker inflame another
| McFarland knew Kuhns was aware of much of Whitakers
animus against him, and thus felt confident he could send a copy of his
letter to Hermann Helms. McFarland had not mentioned Helms or any
of the New York crowd to Whitaker once he learned precisely how Whitaker
felt about the NCF. And McFarland wanted his letter to Kuhns and
its copy sent to Helms treated in confidence, as I have no desire, of
course, to get into any controversy with Whitaker, as I consider that I
would be belittling myself to follow up the matter with such a man as he
| McFarland apparently did copy Hermann Helms on his
letter to Kuhns, for by June 8, 1931, McFarland was writing a return letter
to the man who was, among other things, publisher of the American Chess
Bulletin and chess columnist for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Helms was then sixty-one years old, and would, amazingly, remain active
on the New York chess scene for another thirty-two years. McFarland
confirmed for Helms that you are correct in saying that the interview
with Whitaker was embarrassing; but there is the satisfaction that I know
just what he is and how he stands. I told Anderson what Whitaker
said about the last years team, and also one or two more of the boys here,
and I fancy Whitakers evaluation did not set very well. What a damn fool
thing to say about the team that was sent over! Certainly it was
a damn fool thing for Whitaker to say to a St. Louis man clearly not
sympathetic to his argument, and one who obviously would have opportunity,
and reason, to take the tale back to Anderson himself.
| With this information in hand from McFarland about
Whitaker and his attempt to gain affiliate status in FIDE for the Western
Chess Association, bypassing and thus undermining the authority of the
NCF, Maurice Kuhns wrote FIDE President Reub. Because of the financial
problems plaguing the NCF as well as the nation as a whole (1931 was, of
course, in the heart of the Great Depression), no representative from the
NCF would be able to attend the meeting at Prague. Kuhns did, however,
gratefully accept Reubs offer to represent the NCF at that meeting, sending
him credentials authorizing that representation. In addition, and
most revealingly, he wrote Reub that the Executive Committee of the NCF
did hereby authorize you to present our resignation from FIDE, if the
Congress should vote to admit the Western. We do this because FIDE
interests in the USA would not be served if two units were permitted here;
for that reason, we are quite content to allow the Congress to decide and
beg that you act in accordance with our request as stated above.
He mentioned as well, in what only would have been confirmation for Whitaker
of Kuhns bias had he known of the matter, that the NCF never considered
sending Whitaker to either Hamburg 1930 or Prague 1931, as he was an enemy
of the Federation. Kuhns then enclosed for Reub an unnamed newspaper item
| In all likelihood the unnamed newspaper item Kuhns
sent FIDEs President involved the same matter that was the subject of
a brief exchange between McFarland and Helms, also found in the White Collection
documents. In a letter dated July 9, 1931, McFarland wrote Helms
saying that I am sure you will greatly appreciate Mr. Kuhns reaction
to your Eagle article on the hold up affair, especially his reference
to the false telephone slugs, which is rich indeed. Whitaker
had been arrested at a drug store in Pleasantville, New Jersey, the year
before on December 5, 1930, for putting slugs in a telephone pay station.
He had told the police he was a lawyer from Haddon Heights, New Jersey,
at the time of his arrest, but this was not true. Whitaker had been
disbarred in both New York and the District of Columbia, where he had held
licenses to practice law, not long after he began his first interstate
car theft conviction under the Dyer Act at Leavenworth in 1925. He
posted three hundred dollars bail in Pleasantville, which was declared
forfeit on June 13, 1931. It may well be that Helms had learned of
the bail forfeiture in June and had either mentioned it in one of his chess
columns or else had written an independent article for the Brooklyn
Daily Eagle concerning the matter.
| Nor would this be Helms only attempt to make more
public Whitakers prison record. Other correspondence in the authors
possession indicates Helms wrote the warden at Leavenworth on July 18,
1931, seeking information on the cause of Whitakers prior imprisonment,
as well as his time of entrance and discharge at the well known federal
penitentiary. Four days later, by letter dated July 22, 1931, the
Record Clerk at Leavenworth wrote Helms that the rules of the Department
of Justice prohibit giving information of the nature requested, except
to near relatives or duly authorized officers of the law. As Helms
was neither, he received nothing.
| Although Whitakers attempt to discredit Maurice
Kuhns and the National Chess Federation came to naught, as did his efforts,
by way of the Western Chess Association, to have that organization named
as a second United States affiliate with FIDE, his behavior earned him
the growing scorn of the likes of Horace McFarland, who thus joined the
chorus of chess organizers and officials who wished to have nothing to
do with Whitaker or his causes. Whitaker, as the years passed, was
quick to recite the harms others caused him, yet had a decided talent for
overlooking his own contributions to engendering hard feelings. Whitakers
efforts in the late 1920s and early 1930s to wrestle power in chess organizations,
however, would be cut short by his additional convictions for interstate
car theft, conspiracy to defraud, and the sending of narcotics through
the mails. Indeed, it would not be until 1948, when he was nearly
sixty years old, that Whitaker would again jump fully into chess politics.
And as recounted in detail in Shady Side, his attempt then was on
a much larger scale, publicly aired, and one eventually involving law suits
in multiple states.
| To return, then, to the brief quotation from Shady
Side given earlier in this essay, that mentioned only in passing Whitakers
stop in St. Louis at the end of May 1931. A reader might well ask,
Why wasnt this information about Whitaker talking with Horace McFarland
included in the text? Why wasnt McFarlands dislike of Whitaker,
and how it influenced his comments to Kuhns, who in turn passed along his
dislike of Whitaker to the President of FIDE, as well as McFarlands remarks
to Helms, who in turn published information about Whitakers criminal background,
put in the book?
| The answers to such questions are both simple and
endlessly debatable. On one level, perhaps the most practical, I
realized as author that if every instance of Whitaker metaphorically stepping
on the toes of chess officials were to be included, the book would no doubt
have grown to a four volume set. As it is, the biographical chapters
included in Shady Side required over three hundred pages to give
Whitakers story. Thus, as does any biographer, whether he admits
it to his readers or not, I had to carefully evaluate and chose materials.
And the process of selection, as noted above, involves both inclusion as
well as exclusion. In this case, I felt McFarlands distaste for
Whitaker was but another example of how Whitaker alienated chess organizersa
story often told in Shady Side, and thus neither novel nor distinct
for that reason. For every person in chess Whitaker cultivated as
a friend, and there were many, he managed to raise the blood pressure of
as many more. Many of those stories appear in Shady Side,
and well illustrate Whitakers character in that respect. And so
Whitakers conversation with McFarland as well as other details surrounding
his brief St. Louis trip were excluded.
| On another level, though, whether such a story as
the McFarland correspondence suggests should have been included in Shady
Side or not raises fundamental issues of focus, and, potentially, authorial
bias, that no biographer can fully avoid. Even the selection of a
title for a biography is not entirely free of such concerns.
| Indeed, the title Shady Side: The Life and Crimes
of Norman Tweed Whitaker, Chess Master, did not escape a certain introspection,
as well as a request for explanation. Early on in my review of Whitakers
papers, I realized in order to do the job well I would need to contact
as many people as I could who, at one time or another, had known Norman
Whitaker. I was quite fortunate in May 1998 to contact noted chess
historian Walter Shipman, a California resident and chess player who many
years ago knew Whitaker. As a matter of fact, I came to learn that
Walter Shipman knew Whitaker for over twenty years, and had defeated him
in the 1948 United States Championship as well as in the 1954 New Jersey
Open, their only two tournament games (both games appear in the book, of
course). Shipman quite graciously answered my questions and provided
his recollections of Norman Whitaker, as did many others. But in
Shipmans case, as a historian, another set of questions came to mind,
ones he in turn asked me: just how was I viewing Whitaker, given my working
title included not only life but crimes? Would I condemn Whitaker?
How balanced would I be?
| Shipmans questions were sharp, and indeed critical
to an evaluation of my own focus and possible authorial bias. In
a letter dated May 24, 1998, I tried my best to address his concerns, and
a few of those remarks are suitable for inclusion here . I wrote him that
the working title, I hope, suggests the full-bodied, living contradiction
of a brilliant mind often unable to tolerate authority or authority figures
and whose actions were both in part commendable and contemptible.
Whitaker really was Dickensian in nature, full of genius and devil, and
I hope to give the man in as close to three dimensions as I can.
| Shipmans questions are important ones, and in retrospect
I believe that to the best of my abilities I have honored my commitment
to Shipman the chess historian as well as to Shipman the man, who knew
Whitaker and indeed considered him a friend. For it is certainly
true that the life of any man, or woman, is not merely equivalent to
their crimes. No more so than are a persons virtuous acts the
sum total of his or her life, perhaps even for the life of a saint.
And thus I can say, with some degree of heartfelt if not scientific truth,
that in writing about Norman Tweed Whitaker the choices I made concerning
what material to include, what material to exclude, and what emphasis to
give the whole, were formed by my desire to set forth in all sincerity
a life full of genius and devil. It will remain the task of others
to someday judge how successful my efforts have been.
| Most of the Whitaker family in happier days, probably
around 1910, and probably in Ocean City, New Jersey. Norman Whitaker
is the young man kneeling next to his mother, Agnes Tweed Whitaker. Normans
father, Herbert Whitaker, is standing. The two younger women are
Hazel and Dorothy Whitaker, Normans younger sisters. Missing is
Roland Whitaker, the baby of the family.
(This photo is an exclusive to Chess Archaeology,
and does not appear in the book)
© John S. Hilbert 2000 All Rights Reserved
|John Hilberts Shady Side: The Life and Crimes of Norman Tweed Whitaker,
Chess Master, can be ordered directly from the publisher, Caissa Editions,
P.O. Box 151, Yorklyn, DE 19736 for $46, which includes shipping and handling.